This Veep review contains spoilers.
Veep Season 5 Episode 4
“Mother” is one of the most brutal episodes of Veep. President Selina Meyer is not a likeable character and Julia Louis-Dreyfus has no interest in making her likable. There are so many emotional parallels to House of Cards, where a sociopathic killer runs the country. Hell, there are parallels to Game of Thrones, where there are armies of psychopaths attempting to rule the seven kingdoms and the White Walkers look tame comparably. But because Veep is a comedy, and because they play it so realistically, POTUS is so much worse.
When Gary (Tony Hale) tells Selina that her mother had a stroke, the audience expects a few things: fear, sorrow, grief, even maybe a little curiosity about what that might do to her approval rating. But Veep never goes for the easy road. Selina treats her mom’s hospitalization like a personal inconvenience. At first she masks it, ever so slightly, by saying that her mother knocks on death’s door regularly, but always bounces back, like Rasputin. But it soon dawns on us that she has no room in her busy schedule for the mother who neglected her. But there is no cat’s-in-the-cradle-and-a-silver-spoon kind of lesson here. They were both, apparently, better off for the absence.
Oh. Selina’s mother’s brain hadn’t been working for a long time, President Meyer explains to the press and they don’t get the casual disregard. Gary is appalled and barely able to disguise it. He puts up with so much and lets it all roll off his back. You can see that he is deeply wounded by almost every word Selina utters, but his love is unconditional. Even if it appears that it is being pushed with every syllable that comes out of the president’s mouth after he first starts talking about his own mother’s cancer. Meyer shuts him down and doesn’t even give him any room except to wriggle uncomfortably.
The other members of the staff initially react humanly, except of course Kent Davison, who offers regifted solace. Gary Cole is truly magnificent. His control is almost manic. As a viewer going back and forth between him on this show and his character on The Good Wife, the ballistics expert, I am impressed by how much range he puts into such buttoned down characters. Both characters are defined by their restraint and yet he doesn’t play either of them with any kind of emotional or performance overlap. Yet, he remains infuriating on both shows.
Here, he is almost a robot, created in a Washington lab. Like Mr. Spock on Star Trek, he is aware of emotions, and even understands their implicit value on the electorate, but he projects such a disconnect, it is obvious that he is only grabbing at straws. He is only happy or sad professionally, and even then, both emotions are transitory until all the data can be collected.
The other staffers search the president’s face for some sign of emotional life but only find the eyes of the political animal. Amy (Anna Chlumsky) offers her condolences and almost takes them back. That’s how in tune she is with the president. She and Dan (Reid Scott) are dealing with a fake protest being staged by the candidate O’Brien. I love how their disgust turns to admiration as the realization dawns on them that O’Brien is playing a dirty political game and are only upset that they didn’t think of it first.
After diplomatic relations cost them their chance to adopt a Chinese baby Mike (Matt Walsh) and Wendy start interviewing surrogates. They come across the perfect candidate, but they have to cover up the fact that they are probably not the right fit for what the future mother of Mike’s child is looking for. Deceit isn’t limited to political maneuverings.
When Selina describes her mother as a life-long narcissist to her daughter Catherine Meyer (Sarah Sutherland), she doesn’t even realize she’s describing herself. Catherine is truly shocked and saddened, but she is also coming to a realization about her own mother, the woman who runs the country. The woman is just awful. Selina sees it out of the corner of her eyes, the way she mistakes what Catherine calls her father’s new girlfriend and other clues, but she’s only a peripheral visionary. The president doesn’t see that the upcoming documentary about her reelection campaign is going to be completely unflinching. It’s just a shame she didn’t get any footage of the president cheering and laughing moments after the plug was pulled.
When Selina breaks down while giving the eulogy, it is a catharsis. I couldn’t stop laughing at the ironic triumph it was. Louis-Dreyfus put so much raw ambiguity into tonight’s performance that I wanted everyone to see Selina as the caring, loving daughter mourning her mother. This was an amazing episode because it came so consistently out of left field and left the viewer scrambling to find something soft beneath the hardened crust of Washington professionals.
Veep wants us to hate all politicians as soulless monsters and they would succeed if they weren’t such funny creatures. Martin Mull’s Eagle sums it all up best when he offers President Meyer his congratulations at the funeral.
“Mother” was written by Alex Gregory and Peter Huyck and directed by Dale Stern.